Taking the initiative

Taking the initiative

Postby 59200 » Wed Jul 30, 2008 2:14 am

Hello all,

Very frequently while engaging in free sparring with classmates, I'll come to the point where both my opponent and I are in defensive stances waiting for each other to initiate an attack. This has made me realize that I have very little idea how to "take the initiative".

As I understand it, Tai Chi is somewhat "reactionary" oriented in that the goal of a practitioner is to take advantage of an opponent's attacks and movements to effectively disable them. However, if the opponent is not making themself vulnerable like this in some manner our goal is to force them to move and react so we can then take advantage of any weaknesses.

For an exercise like push hands where the opponent and I are maintaining contact and we can actively listen to each other's movements I have some idea of how this might work. For free sparring though, I am at a loss.
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Wed Jul 30, 2008 2:40 pm

I have no idea how I'd make an opponent initiate an attack.
None.
In "real life" situations my opponent has always been quite aggressive and initiated, allowing me to respond as needed.
In push hands and sparring our group always plays one as the aggressor and one as the defender.
I've always lived under the maxim of "if my opponent does not move, I do not move. If my opponent moves I arrive first."
If they don't move, then there is nothing to react to and you can take a nice little break.
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Postby Zhuolun » Wed Jul 30, 2008 4:51 pm

Although I've never engaged in push-hands or sparring because I'm still learning the form, I think the idea is if there is nothing of which to take the initiative, you should try to force your opponent into a weak position, of course without losing your own balance. When you pressure your opponent, there will be a period of time in which he might resist; this resisting force is something you can use to your advantage. If, on the other hand, your opponent "melts" your pressure away, just keep pressuring without losing your balance.

[This message has been edited by Zhuolun (edited 07-30-2008).]
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Postby fumin » Wed Jul 30, 2008 6:29 pm

Hi 59200

This is what you describe:"This has made me realize that I have very little idea how to "take the initiative" and "For free sparring though, I am at a loss."


Bob already provided a very good method of practice ,the concept of a true situation in real life,and a stick to the principle:"if my opponent does not move, I do not move. If my opponent moves I arrive first."

According to your question on free sparring,since you are classmates,both of you won't intetionally harm each other. So,while waiting at the moment,why don't you try to take the initiative to see what's your classmate's reaction and how he takes your advantage and controls and overcomes your initiative attack or move. No matter you two are in waiting, aggression or defense, all you do is try to listen carefully to your opponent(classmate). If you don't understand how your classmate or your friend control you or take your advantage and successfully attack you, do not hesitate to ask how he did it,and ask him to repeat and explain his action until you "understan" this reaction.

In Taichi Boxing, lestening and understanding is the core in fighting because you can overcome your enemy with no effort or even a minor power. If a fighter think to himself:"he can use thousand pound power to destroy his enemy. and then he doesn't need the taichi's listening and understanding of following, guiding and redirecting,aborbing and making attack empty...ect,all these done without effort."

But when you achieve this goal,there is no doubt, yor have to take long time and effort to apply this effortless principle.
Just like what bob said, he always takes some principle as a maxim. Some day you can apply it in a free sparring, you won't be at a loss.

Cheers

Fumin, Fred Hao
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Wed Jul 30, 2008 8:07 pm

Zhuolun,
Your posting uses a word I really can't agree with, "forcing".
As I understand the concept, and believe me there is much I do not understand about it, in Tai Chi sparring you should not apply "force" at any time.
I suppose, and have heard but never seen, there are some who can feint an attack with no force to coerce an opponent to respond with force, but I do not have that level of skill. When I even begin to think of applying "force" I find that the minute tensing of my body in response to even the thought of doing so gives my opponent quite an advantage.
When I am in either push hands or sparring situations and it is my turn to be the aggressor, I fall back on time spent in other martial arts and initiate an attack of some kind using force. This allows my opponent to use that force against me in our training, he learns, I learn, so by losing that particular session I have invested in the loss so we both can learn from it. As a training tool I have no particular problem with this.
However, in a "real life" fight this will get you hurt.
Over time I have discovered that as the defender in a situation I have a much greater range of ability to respond to incoming force than my attacker has to apply it. By being quiet and listening I feel his movement usually before he thinks he has started, I can easily follow it and respond to it in some way. Listening for it, following it and redirecting it are quite easy to do but only if I'm not currently engaged in thinking about it or applying force of some kind of my own.
I would never initiate force, because as soon as I apply force I feel my options, of listening, sticking, adhering or following, go right out the window and I am at the mercy of the skill level of my opponent. If he has even a small amount of skill in ting jin (Tai Chi listening), following and redirecting he will be able to use even a very small amount of force applied by me to move me into a very disadvantageous position.
I think I am pretty close to the concept when I say, "take a nice little break", but maybe should have completed it with, "wait and listen for what he does next".
By being very still and very quiet, both physically and mentall, I can "hear" my opponents intent. Most of the time it can be "heard" long before the opponent himself is aware of exactly what he's going to do.
This is quite an advantage, I would not give it up willingly in the hope that my skill is greater than my opponents once the blows have begun.
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Postby fumin » Wed Jul 30, 2008 8:52 pm

Hi,Bob.
Good for you that you can see the "force" applied by Zhuolun. I see that too. I feel instantly that if someone gives me the force hint,then the contact point naturally become soft and the whole body naturally adjust to the tendency as cotton or as snake and the finger as a needle thrust into the opening due to the interaction between hard and soft.

This is true with what bob states: "I suppose, and have heard but never seen, there are some who can feint an attack with no force to coerce an opponent to respond with force."

As a Taichi practioner, everyone may go through the experience by using force and taste the loss. And it helps to learn both in principle and in practical sparring interaction.

cheers
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Postby Zhuolun » Wed Jul 30, 2008 10:10 pm

In its context, "to force your opponent into a weak position" clearly does not entirely mean "to apply force". If you prefer to keep your hands stationary during push-hands for listening, your feet are still available to move, perhaps into a position that is uncomfortable to your opponent: the practice can then continue.
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Thu Jul 31, 2008 4:11 pm

Zhoulun,
I don't believe you're understanding what I'm trying to say.
It has nothing to do with keeping my hands stationary, my hands will move to follow any movement of my opponent, or in stepping.
It is the application of force that will get you in trouble during push hands or sparring, whether that force is applied by the hands, feet, shoulder, elbow, toes, nose, ears...
Doesn't matter.
A skilled player will find it and use it against you.
You want to give yourself up, meaning don't think "I'm going to win!" and try to push or pull your opponent into a disadvantageous position by using your own muscular strength.
You have to allow your opponent to put themself into that position, only applying energy, not force energy, after they have done so.
If you begin to apply your energy and find yourself being manipulated, then you will need to follow the energy being used against you, yield to it and follow it until you can redirect it.
Don't confuse "force" with "energy", they are entirely different things.

Bob
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Postby fumin » Thu Jul 31, 2008 6:13 pm

This is a good interaction in discussion between Zhuolun and bob.

Talking about the application of Taichi,we use the energy Bob describes. If this kind of muscular strength is applied in other sparring,it causes that the stronger force hits the minor force. In this kind force it produces blocking, sudden stop, and then two opponents hit each other.

for example, the bull uses force and the bullfighter uses energy because of the interactive movement of the cloth and the coordinative movement of the hand ,body, and legs of the bullfighter. In this interaction of force and energy, the bullfighter kills the bull with many arrows.


Cheer
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Postby 59200 » Fri Aug 01, 2008 2:15 am

Bob Ashmore: Regarding your quote, "if my opponent does not move, I do not move. If my opponent moves I arrive first" I agree this makes much sense in context of "real life" situations. I am not fully convinced that is the only possible choice for a tai chi player though (explained further below). That is interesting your school pairs people as attacker and defender though. Do you know if this is a widespread practice?

Zhuolun: I agree with what you're saying, but I do not know how to actually apply this.

fumin: You have a very good point here. The basic reason why we hesitate to initiate the attack is because we fear putting ourselves at a disadvantage. However, I should not be focused on "winning" but rather learning in the sparring environment.


The main reason I believe there must be some way in accordance with tai chi principles to take initiative is with push hands. When engaging in push hands it is clear that someone must take the initative or else nothing will ever happen. It seems like there must be some way to apply this to free sparring, though this is backed by nothing more than my intuition speaking.
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Postby fumin » Fri Aug 01, 2008 2:55 am

Hi,59200

Nice to hear you. Of course, there must be some principles to take initiative. After you can achieve the level to the classic push-hand formula and while you have the experience to handle three opponents and you still find your hands and legs are free to use because their attack to you is in vain and out of balance. Then you can take initiative at that time. I have these expriences. It takes a good teacher, pratice, and intelligence. Wish you a success.

Cheers
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Fri Aug 01, 2008 4:52 pm

59200,
I have heard that there are methods to "feint" an attack against an opponent to draw them into using force, at which time you accept, follow and redirect according to TCC principles.
I have not experienced this myself nor would I do so without proper guidance from my instructor.
That said, my instructor has never mentioned this as being a viable method during push hands or for real life application.
Doesn't mean it doesn't exist, doesn't mean it's not usable. It only means I've not been introduced to it. Maybe I'm not ready for it yet? Dunno.

Yes, we pair off for push hands or application training and we use a method of training in which on person is the aggressor and one is the defender.
How else could you do it?
Someone, at some point, has got to move in order for there to be an exchange. If both parties stand there without moving, there can't be a whole lot of training going on...
At least, not in any meaningful fashion.
I don't know if it's "widespread" or not, I know I've trained that way under three different instructors at three different schools.
How does your group train that is different from this?

Bob
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Postby DPasek » Wed Aug 06, 2008 7:18 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Bob Ashmore:
<B>Yes, we pair off for push hands or application training and we use a method of training in which on person is the aggressor and one is the defender.
How else could you do it?
Someone, at some point, has got to move in order for there to be an exchange. If both parties stand there without moving, there can't be a whole lot of training going on...
At least, not in any meaningful fashion.
I don't know if it's "widespread" or not, I know I've trained that way under three different instructors at three different schools.
How does your group train that is different from this?

Bob</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I am not clear what issue is being addressed in this thread, but since there have been no new posts in a few days I’ll go ahead and make my own post. It seems that people are hesitant to issue energy when the partner/opponent is trying to be stationary. Is this because you cannot detect vulnerabilities unless the other person is in motion? Is it because you are concerned that you may expose your own vulnerabilities when you are in motion? If you can detect vulnerabilities in the opponent, then what constrains you from initiating an attack directed at their vulnerabilities? If you expose your own vulnerabilities, then more practice is indicated; and push-hands interactions can expose what is most important for further practice.

Do Yang family style practitioners try to interpret the quote, "if my opponent does not move, I do not move…" in a literal sense? While I can agree with the sentiments behind that statement, I do not see how anybody who is alive can be entirely unmoving. If alive, then they are breathing; and if they are breathing, then they are moving (at a minimum they are expanding and contracting)! If your sensitivity is insufficient to detect an opponent’s movement produced by their breathing (or your movement due to your breathing), then perhaps you should treat them as if they were not moving, but otherwise there is movement that can be interacted with.

You do not need to initiate attacking energy unless you sense a defect in the opponent, but if you are alive and you are touching another person, then your energy (and movement) is interacting with them. How can this not be so?

Even if you move as if you are doing solo movement, if you are in contact with someone, then that ‘solo’ movement would produce some sort of interaction with them. If you maintain proper Taijiquan principles in your movement, then, as long as they do the same, it becomes a pleasant conversation between the individuals (listening, reading, following…). If they do not exhibit proper principles while moving, then you have an opportunity to issue attacking energy if you are able to properly detect and interpret their error(s).

If you are in a ‘conversation’ with your opponent, then neither needs to be designated as the ‘aggressor’ or ‘defender’. Both can continue moving and interacting with their energies until an error is detected, after which one could try taking advantage of any detected fault.

Even if two practitioners in contact with each other are trying to remain as motionless as possible, and if the movement from their breathing is perfectly matched, one can still try to detect postural errors in the other individual, and if any are detected these can be the object of attacking energy.

I don’t want to be misinterpreting what posters on this thread are saying, but it seems that either you are indicating that you are unable to detect errors in Taijiquan postures (e.g. the 10 essentials…) in unmoving partners that you are in contact with, or (less likely) your training partners are so adept that they do not exhibit any detectable errors. If either of these possibilities, then I could perhaps see what is being addressed here, but otherwise I must say that I (not having trained in the Yang family organization’s system) don’t really understand what problem this thread is trying to address. If you detect an error, then it seems to me that you could chose to take the initiative to issue energy (either probing or, if appropriate, attacking).

I often derive as much enjoyment from interchanges of energy where neither really takes the initiative to issue an attack due to the adjustments (responses) to the interactive energies where no clear fault is detected by the partners. However, we continue with movements, only occasionally slowing to close to physical stillness (and the interaction, though the movements may be quite small physically, continues). It is not necessary to issue attacking energy to have an interesting interchange of interactive energy between partners.

Dan
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Fri Aug 08, 2008 3:56 pm

Dpasek,
I was responding to the posters questions about sparring. His questions related to "taking the initiative" in that context.
Specifically I was responding, at first, to his question regarding the time when two partners are sparring together and they find themselves in the position of standing there watching and listening to each other without movement on either parties part.
I related that in the classes I attend (I want to be quite clear that while I train at a Yang Cheng Fu Center I don't pretend I can speak directly to Yang family practice methods) we spar in the context of one person being the aggressor and one being the defender. In this fashion such a scenario where to partners are standing there looking at and listening to each other does not often happen.
My personal method of sparring or actually fighting is to "wait for it". If my opponent does not move, I do not move. This is how I respond best to such situations. In sparring and combat situations this pays off in that I can listen, join, stick, adhere, follow and redirect at my leisure. However in order to facilitate sparring lessons when it is my turn to be the aggressor I act quite aggressively and attack my opponent with gusto.
I enjoy it quite a lot, actually, as it is quite fun to engage in this fashion when in a safe, controlled sparring environment.
I've still got enough "Want to be Bruce Lee" in me to recognize that I do enjoy the interchange.
However, in a "street fight" (hey, I've only been in one in the last eight years and it was such a non-event it wasn't really all that exciting) I do not engage in aggressive behaviours, I follow the principles and do not move until my opponent has initiated.

As for interpreting the maxim of "if my opponent does not move, I do not move. If my opponent moves, I arrive first"...
I can only speak for myself, not Yang family doctrine. Others on this site will have more definitive and authoratative answers than I ever could.
However, while I recognize that "breathing", heart beating, even blood circulation and nerve impulses are "movement", when working with the above quoted maxim I am thinking more in the terms of "li", which I meet, join and redirect with "yi". Sure, my opponent is breathing, sure his stance is most likely incorrect, his hips will be "hard" set, his back will be out of alignment with his stance, his shoulders will be "up", his elbows will be rigid, his knees will be locked...
I can feel all of this and could, quite likely, initiate attacking energy against any or all of these points.
But why?
I then will be using my own energy to do these things.
I much prefer to borrow an opponents energy and use that. In order to do this it sort of requires that he give me some energy. This energy is most easily obtained by using his "li", coarse strength, energy and redirecting it back into his own body.
My "ting jin", listening energy, is in constant motion even before we have joined. I am watching and hearing and feeling and sensing his demeanor, his attitude, how he stands, how he moves, what he says, what his body language says, how he's breathing, what he's watching, what he's listening to...
All these things are constantly being assessed. Then we touch and I begin to take inventory of his stance, his frame, his level of anger...
Everything.
Once I know him, I can all the more easily take advantage of his weaknesses.
I, on the other hand, am usually quite still before and during an encounter.
I do not wish to advertise myself. Why give my opponent any more opportunity to know me? Why give him more infomation than necessary?
By initiating an "attack" against a skilled opponent, I may be giving him the exact information about myself, and certainly enough energy frmo me, that he needs to defeat me. I choose instead to "wait for it" and listen to him, learn to know him, then respond to his actions.
Much less chance of my being known in this way.

I quite agree with you about pushing hands. I too quite enjoy the flow of energy, the movement intermingled with the energy.
However, push hands is a practice in and of itself. It is not sparring or combat. It is higly ritualized energy interaction.
Not the same thing at all.
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Postby Audi » Sat Aug 09, 2008 6:32 pm

Hi everyone,

I think I would give different responses to the original question, depending on what is being discussed: Push Hands, sparring, self-defense, fighting, and sport all require somewhat different approaches. If we are talking about sparring as a training activity, then there should be little thought to who wins or loses, the idea is to learn and to teach cooperatively.

Without movement or the intent to move, there can be no sticking; however, I think that distinquishing full and empty is a higher principle. In sparring, first try to exploit the opponent's full and empty while hiding your own. If your opponent has his full and empty hidden, provoke him to reveal it.

If your sparring opponent is adamantly committed to stillness, then walk around him and kick him gently in the behind. If he is not quite that committed to stillness, he will move to thwart your clever plan and then you will have something to stick to.

Another strategy would be to launch a slow strike, while attempting to hide your full and empty. If there is no response, you follow through. If your opponent responds, you now have an opportunity to practice counters to the response, and your opponent can practice counters to your counters. The cycle can, in theory, continue without end if both partners have enough skill and are evenly matched.

A last approach is to recall the sayings in the Art of War that no fixed defense can succeed. If your opponent maximizes his response to right and left, then front and back are vulnerable. If he maximizes defense of right, then the left is exposed. If he defends everywhere, then everywhere is exposed.

When you spar, see how your opponent deploys his "forces." Unless he is in the Preparation Posture or matching your movements, he has already tended to expose vulnerabilities that you can probe. If he matches your every move, recall that perfect symmetry is impossible, even if you are twins.

The game of Go exhibits many of the characteristics that we talk about in Taijiquan, like full and empty. One of its peculiarities is that a beginner can attempt a strategy of exactly matching every move of this opponent and theoretically force a draw. In reality, this strategy is a losing one. The board appears perfectly symmetrical (19 X 19 intersecting lines, with play on the intersections in the interior, sides, and corners), but it is not. The players move consecutively, and there is only one center point. If you take no initiative, you will always lose to any player of skill.

The issue should not be whether you take the initiative, but how you take it. Take the initiative by giving your partner what he wants and making him choke on it. Image If he wants to be still, let him be still and use it.

Take care,
Audi
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